Most grape harvests in the Northern Hemisphere
terminate sometime in October as does the fresh grape season at Preston
Hardware. While Sam Giannetti and the guys get the warehouse back to
normal, it is a good time to head to France and conduct some (‘ahem)
Continental Europe during the Fall is a great place
to visit. Traffic is way down, reservations generally not needed and
the weather is usually good for travel. November does bring some
closures of hotels in smaller centres or rural areas but for the most
part accommodation is much easier to come by and less expensive than
during the warmer weather.
As long as you keep your eye on the weather (use
web sites) and keep mobile, you can experience the best the area has to
offer under good conditions.
An example - after being based in Avignon for three
days based and exploring the surrounding countryside, we decided to stay
in the area for a few more days, but changed our minds when the Meteo
France website predicted heavy rains for the period. A half-day’s
got us to the sunny French Alps where we enjoyed the towns and mountains
Using high speed trains (over long distances) and
rented cars give you great flexibility at a time of year when weather
can negatively impact on your journey.
Back in the 60's, you had to rely on a two-day-old
Herald Tribune published in Paris for your information and few of my
generation had the scratch to afford rental cars. Today the information
highways and transportation systems give the visitor a lot of potential
flexibility and speedy access.
One thing that hasn't changed for the better is the
gentrification of some historical locations.
lamented in a 2010 piece on Bordeaux, that the town of St. Emilion
wasn't much of a real town anymore. Today it gets over a million
visitors and it is designated a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE.
The downside to this is that the tax base has been
seriously compromised. Economic forces have effectively purged the
populace of inhabitants and businesses that normally contribute to the
town's financial well-being. The town is in debt $3,500 CDN per each of
the 2000 or so citizens. The mayor and council have had to sell off
local monuments to overcome this financial hardship. The rumour that
1/3 of the Bordeaux properties are for sale due to succession issues
means that the hot real estate deals may not all be in Florida and
What follows are some thoughts from the road by
Lyon and Beaujolais
Beaujolais is a wine that I have generally
forgotten about over the years as there have been better wines on the
market at that price point. Even the decline of Beaujolais Nouveau as an
entity has shown a consumer fatigue for the over-hyped beverage. This
trip was a revelation. It didn't hurt that 2009 and 2010 were good
vintages for Beaujolais but other forces are also at work.
Reduction of yield, better soil management, some
use of indigenous yeasts, and a return to more traditional fermentation
techniques have all helped this area elevate the quality, especially in
the Cru categories. This is good news because the wine is a versatile
‘quaffer’ that goes with many foods.
Brouilly and Cote de Brouilly were the regions I
focused on because of my relative ignorance of these Crus.
thing that distinguishes these AC's over the others in Beaujolais is
their ability to use other grapes besides Gamay. Pinot Noir and some
whites are legally used to add some complexity and lift to these wines.
My favourite was CHATEAU THIVAN COTE DE BROUILLY grown on the granite
and schist slopes of Mont Brouilly. Good concentration and some
finesse (contributed by a little Chardonnay) to the wine.
is a gastronomic paradise with many traditional and good restaurants in
a very walk-able city.
Brasserie Georges, where you can sample many
regional delights, is an example of Old Europe Art Deco and has been
around since 1836. They brew their own beer and have a table capacity
of over 500 people. This is a must visit in Lyon not only for the food
which is solid but for the Old World experience. This is also the
place to try Beaujolais that you can't get at home.
Lyon's southern backyard is the Northern Rhone
Valley, specifically the Cote Rotie and Condrieu. The steep slopes
support terraced Syrah and Viognier and many growers have just 3 or 4
hectares of hand tended vines to manage.
south along the river strip to St. Joseph, Cornas, Hermitage and Crozes
Hermitage, the white Roussane and Marasanne grapes join the fray.
Tain and Tournon on opposite sides of the river are
good spots to centre yourself in this region. Chapoutier is a smart
winery stop to learn more about the region from some of the most
informed tasting room staff I have ever encountered. The winery,
established in 1808, produces wine from the whole Rhone region as well
South of this area, the Rhone Valley opens up and
the Southern Rhone starts at Valence. Vineyards become larger, the
climate becomes warmer and you get that brightness in the air that
artists have sought for years to replicate on canvas.
Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Chateauneuf de Pape and
many other centres make up the big mix of the environs.
Gigondas is a beautiful village perched above the
valley as you ascend the beautiful Dentelles de Montmirail mountains.
This area is the place for Grenache in its best fruity and rich form.
all the towns and villages in this region are important wine centres.
The most scenic being Cairanne, Vinsobres, Rasteau, Beaumes de Venise
and Chateauneuf du Pape. But, if you want to stay where the Popes did,
bring lots of money.
You can spend big bucks anywhere in the region but
lots of good wine and accommodation in the low to medium price range
also. The diversity of the wines reflects the fact that there are 13
permitted varieties which give the winemakers much scope and flexibility.
The southern Rhone area merges into Provence to the
east and we headed into the Cotes du Laberon wine district, but in this
case, not for the wine.
reading British author Peter Mayle's books on this region - “A Year in
Provence” and “A Good Year” - and seeing the TV series and the movie, we
wanted to see the motivation for his exploits. Mayle has written
countless other books on the region and other varied topics. This area
is quiet, relatively secluded with a great climate and natural scenery.
Mayle originally located in Menerbes but now lives
in Lourmarin in the department Vancluse. Apparently Mayle had problems
starting his first book due to the area's distractions. I can
appreciate that and will drink to that, which is obviously one of the
Savoie (French Alps)
alpine area close to many world class ski resorts has vineyards that are
placed in sunny aspects with mountain cold modified by large picturesque
Aix les Bains, a spa town, is in the centre of the
region which is comprised of small growers producing mostly white wine
from varieties that you have never heard about. Apart from a credible
Pinot Noir that I tasted, the rest of the local wine ranged from very
average to awful. I checked various French wine sources on the quality
issue and found that the area is lacking, shall we say, in “wine
reputation”. Which goes to prove that after along day on the slopes,
skiers and boarders will drink anything. Go for the scenery and
The question I'm probably asked most about travel
destinations is the “price”.
today's world prices are a lot more equal internationally across the
board than they used to be. You will find great exceptions in large
centres and we all know who the usual suspects are.
Paris is always touted as one of those “suspects”
but I disagree. Is there a city anywhere that has as much to see and do
for free or for a reasonable price? There are so many hotels and
restaurants that you will always find your price point. The Metro is as
good a system as anywhere and it is cheap and easy to get around.
In a Wine Bistro just off of the Boulevard St
wife and I had the lunch special. Two big servings of delicious potage
de legumes, two of the best roast ham we have ever had with potatoes
dauphin and fresh French beans with mustard cream sauce. Lunch also
included two glasses of exceptional Gamay from Touraine and of course
fresh baguette. The price with everything included was $36.00
A week later I was in Ottawa dining at a medium
priced restaurant that had been in business for about 25 years. Lunch
was a seafood stir fry and two beers. The stir fry was one of those
pre-packaged meals that lacked taste and any nuance. The beer was good;
the food awful. The price with tip and taxes (for just me) was the same
In short, the people in the Left Bank bistro were
passionate about food and wine. The chefs came out and asked the
customers how they liked the meal.
was obviously a neighbourhood place where everybody knew each other. We
even met a dog holding fort underneath the next table.
Although the difference in price is significant –
two meals versus one in this case- it is the quality issue that is most
substantial. One often has to travel sometimes to get exactly what they
want in any price range.